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Learning difficulties - its causes and consequences

When learning becomes unbearable

learning disabilities and burnout
learning disabilities and burnout | ©: pegbes - Fotolia

It’s the same for many children. School is not part of their favourite past time pleasures. Every adult still remembers his own schooldays. Doing your homework and learning for the next test that almost always only happens under duress and not out of motivation. However, rarely is that due to the missing readiness of the child. Mostly there are different levels of learning difficulties at work. For children who are able to absorb new knowledge quickly and without much effort, learning is often fun. For many parents, this is a wishful dream. Unfortunately, this is the exception. The reality can look very differently. It seems some children can only sit down and do their homework when put under pressure.

Why do children no longer have fun learning?

After all, and particularly at a young age, the never-ending question for the why, the "thirst for knowledge" was so present that it was annoying to our parents at times. Yet, suddenly the interest to gain knowledge, the willingness to learn is gone.

Usually for first graders the fun is still present. However, that gets less and less as time goes on. Finally, going to school becomes a negative experience. This can happen for many reasons. Basically, our school system is just not designed to motivate children. However, in this young age this rarely has anything to do with a learning disability. The reasons for those problems are much more outside the school system. However, no matter what the reason is, children can (again) have fun to learn. To make that happen, however, changes have to be implemented, which in most cases is not all that easy. Foremost it is important to analyze the cause of learning disability and then put the appropriate countermeasures in place. However, you have to be sure that such a learning disability actually exists.

Learning disability or just a few learning difficulties?

To prevent overreacting when you are actually only dealing with a short period of learning problems, it is important to realize that this phase has to last three months to be diagnosed with a learning disability.

learning disabilities and fear of school
learning disabilities and fear of school | ©: Sonja Calovini - Fotolia

Secondly, even when a significant effort is made, the child has to have little to no success. If a child needs just longer to finish his homework, this is not necessarily a learning disability. Maybe he simply uses only the wrong techniques or is predisposed kinaesthetically. In this case, the child does not learn like most other children through visual or auditory stimuli but by touch and actually doing it. For example, such a child can learn to draw really quickly. However, when it comes to pass a test about drawing, he most likely will do less well.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, just a different way to understand the world. The only problem is that in today’s schools’ this kind of learning is hardly considered. Therefore, caution is always recommended if a learning disability is diagnosed or pending. Unfortunately, we have created a world, in which everything that deviates too far from the norm is called morbid; even, many times that is not the case at all.

If you look at it more critical, you could even say a learning disability, that sounds kind of good. It has the ring of a real diagnosed condition to it, which, for many parents reassuring. In many cases, it is even an excuse for the child that it just simply can’t do certain things. (To write, read, count, focus and so on). In some cases, this attitude created the learning disability in the first place. Basically, every child, youth or adult is capable of learning. However, sometimes negative experiences, in particular in the early childhood smothered this learning ability. Example? Too much criticism caused discouragement, the child comes to the (false) realization “I never can get it right." Over time, he will lose more and more confidence and the learning difficulties will increase accordingly. Subsequently, a learning disability indeed can be diagnosed. However, it is more than questionable if by then all the little circumstances which lead to this condition still can be uncovered.

Social, psychological or physiological reasons

It is always difficult to figure out exactly how this problem developed. There are many possible causes. The reason may be psychological, social or out of physiological difficulties. For example, it could happen that a psychological reason is diagnosed when in reality it is a physiological problem. Or it may be a physiological cause, but decisive for the problem was actually a psychological difficulty. My recommendation is to always get a second and just to be on the safe side, a third opinion as well. There are simply too many variables to make a quick diagnosis whether a learning disability is at hand.

Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and ADHD

The symptoms of dyslexia, dyscalculia (math disability) or ADHD can be very similar. In the first two conditions, the problem is usually in neurological deficits, which can more or less be reduced through targeted measures. In AD (H) D, medicine has not yet agreed on the underlying causes. Even there is the possibility of a genetic predisposition; this does not mean that this condition fully develops. AD (H) D is often diagnosed in kinesthetic children as well. In general this diagnoses has to be handled with great care, yet, in my opinion, is diagnosed much too lightly. After all, handing out tablets is the easiest way to quieten down “unruly” children. It is much harder to fathom the psychological problems and solve them. Of course, there are cases where there is indeed a neurological disorder. In these cases, treatment with drugs becomes a necessity. However, an appropriate therapy plan needs to be worked out as well.

Psychological causes

Sometimes the reasons for learning disabilities are subconscious behaviour patterns and fears. One of the big issues is test anxiety. In some cases, this fear is not very apparent. On the other hand, there are also students who get restless and start sweating before every exam. That started already when starting to learn for the exam. It seemed they indeed could not remember anything.

learning disabilities and extra tuition
learning disabilities and extra tuition | ©: contrastwerkstatt - Fotolia

The reasons for such learning difficulties are often to be found in a subconscious fear of examinations. In many children and young people, there are first signs, however, for some this develops into a permanently, pathological disorder. This makes learning for an exam almost impossible. This fear of examinations was often caused by early experiences, i.e. the fear of failure or criticising parents. In short this test anxiety has causes, which happened earlier on.

Another big problem is the motivation. For some people without motivation nothing will happen at all. Both of these problems are the result of a very particular environment with very little encouragement. In many cases, the causes of a learning disability, seen from a psychological point of view, lies in the upbringing of the child. However, the parents are not to blame here. After all, they only do what they were taught themselves. Therefore, more assistance should be made available so that parents receive useful advice, pointing them into the right direction of bringing up their children. Children are always influenced and affected by their parents. If the latter, even unknowingly, make serious errors in bringing up their children, the consequence might be a psychological problem, such as a learning disability. The worst thing parents can do is putting more pressure on the child. Usually, children want to please their parents and, therefore, do everything that is asked of them. However, if pleasing the parent turns into failure, over time, the child will develop corresponding fears. If the child receives lower grades on its schoolwork and knows already instead of help it will be punished or even worse is scorned, then the fear of failure will increase with every exam. Eventually, this fear becomes so all-consuming, the child becomes reluctant to learn – only because it is so scared of another failure.

Another problem is the lack of appreciation. If a child receives good grades but still does not get any praise, that will have an adverse effect on him. Sometimes the child receives a B or C and is told that was not good enough. The next time it might be a B+ and still, his parents take that as a reason to disapprove of the child. Instead of being happy with the child and praise him for the good job he has delivered he is told, supposedly he was not good enough. As a consequence, the child starts to take good grades as bad and the learning problem begins to take its course. It’s not only that this situation has the potential to progress to a learning disability it also will take its toll on the child’s self-esteem and confidence. This in turn leads to social problems and other uncertainties. A downward spiral of problems has begun.

Social and physiological causes

The reverse is also possible: Social problems progress into a learning disability. If a child is seriously struggling with continuing problems at school and hardly, if at all, has time for social activities, it is time for parents and teachers to take a closer look. Besides that, a learning disability also can develop from a physical impairment. A child does not know what is normal and what it has to tell his parents. Sometimes children fear that there is something wrong with them and, therefore, don’t say anything.

For example, visual or audible difficulties can cause the child not to hear the teacher correctly or respectively can’t read what’s written on the blackboard or books. To make sure such perception problems are not evident, it would be recommendable to consult with an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. In this case, it would be one-sided to look for the underlying problem of the learning disability only in the psychological field. You also cannot exclude an impairment of perception.

The consequences of learning disabilities

I mentioned already the possible implications. The learning disability is often a consequence of fears, lack of recognition wrong ambition of the parents, which cause the child fears (such as fear of failure, fear of criticism) or discouragement in general. The child is afraid to learn at all. In other words, a combination of various possibilities, which eventually can lead to learning difficulties and even to a learning disability.

This learning problem can be followed by even more consequences: the child withdraws; engages in things he is good at. For example, computer games or sports. For teenagers, it might be an escape into alcohol, drugs and cliques where they spend their leisure time. School and learning often become a red flag. The child or young person thinks poorly about himself, in terms of I am "stupid" or "less smart". His self-esteem takes a dive. Of course, young people are unable to admit that. They try to hide their insecurities and despair behind a mask of coolness.

What can parents and teacher do?

It is important that parents always observe their children virulently. Maybe the learning disability is just a phase, but if it lasts longer, then it should be looked at in greater detail. As soon as cause and diagnosis are established it is up to the parents to explain to their child that it is not responsible for this disorder. (It is not uncommon that parents assume that their child is lazy. More likely, at that point the child has already resigned because, before “being lazy” many other things went wrong). The child needs to be taught to deal with this situation as good as possible to meet the challenge. Besides understanding your child, it is important to always support and encourage your child.

Teachers can also contribute. The single most important thing here is to realize, you are dealing here with a problem. It is not unknown that children succeed to hide their problems from their parents. Therefore, as soon as the teacher recognises there might be a problem he is to consult with the parents. A school psychologist can be equally helpful. If a diagnosis is given, the problem must be considered and the child integrated in a way so that it does not feel like an outsider. Just as children with poor vision are allowed to sit in the front, equally a child with a learning disability must be treated according to his needs. This can mean to transfer him to a particular class and in severe cases to a special school.

learning social cooperation
learning social cooperation | ©: Jasmin Merdan - Fotolia

Conclusion: Attention! Learning difficulties can have many causes

In summary, it can be said that at the suggestion of a learning disability should be taken with great caution. It could be anything, a disease, a psychological or social deficit or a perception problem. Not just because of this wide variety of options but mainly because of the possible consequences, this delicate situation has to be treated with great care. Learning is one of the most important functions for a happy life. Therefore every effort should be made not to stall this ability. Otherwise, affected children may have great difficulty in their future life.

In the case the child’s diagnosis was built on disorders such as dyscalculia, ADHD or others, this can cause discouragement for the child. It may start to think in terms of, “I am sick” or “I will never be able to learn all those things”. Thinking pattern as such can reinforce the so-called “learning disability”. The child may feel labelled as “less smart”. And really, who wants to be labelled as "stupid", "less smart" or even "not able to learn?" Inevitably, in every human being that would trigger negative emotions. Therefore, be always virulent what you say and how you treat your child!


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